Melissa Leong: 22 Delicious Facts About The Food Critic!

Melissa Leong

As Melissa Leon’s fan base grows with every appearance on the revamped Masterchef cooking show, the food and travel writer has started to open up about her personal life. Not only that, Melissa Leong has gained a huge fan follower on her social media account like Instagram, having more than 180k fan followers. In terms of her vibrant and extensive career, the Masterchef judge has worked as an author of Delicious Magazine, the Guardian, and News.com.au. She was also a freelancer and a consultant with different brands such as Adriano Zumbo, Gelato Messina, and several others. Let’s explore these facts about Melissa Leong’s nationality, salary, net worth, personal life, quarantine time and cats: 

Melissa Leong: 22 Facts About The Masterchef Judge

1. Childhood and early life: 

Born in Sydney to parents who immigrated from Singapore in the 70s, Leong says: 

“I grew up in the suburbs of southern Sydney in a place that’s come to be known as The Shire. Being one of only two Chinese families who went to my primary school, it wasn’t what you would call the most diverse of peer groups, but being different from the start was galvanising for me. I took pride in everything I could do that others couldn’t, and learnt to celebrate what made me, me.

From being on track to be a concert pianist, to ballet, athletics and academics, I enjoyed playing with the overachieving Asian stereotype, and I found through owning it, people come to accept who you are and even celebrate that. That hasn’t changed in my world of work – I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but the strength in self belief and making it work that I cultivated as a kid has served me well in what my career has become”. 

2. Melissa Leong had a music scholarship in high school:

“I went to High School at The Inaburra School, a media specialist school in the southern suburbs of Sydney. It’s a Baptist private school, so it was pretty heavy on the religious front, but what I loved was that it was small enough for teachers and students to really come to understand each other and we were given a fair degree of independence to explore our interests and skills. I held a regional school music scholarship for part of the time I was there and was always involved in the orchestra and other musical groups, which was a great way of being involved. We also had a feeder program into a show that was on SBS, so a lot of us ended up learning to present, edit, film and direct early on…which, now as part of my job involves being a television presenter, has come full circle in a way!” 

3. She was that kid “who brought the weird lunches to school”

“I’ve always said my greatest qualification for ending up in a job like this is having a lifelong obsession with food and that’s come from my culture,” 

“It’s not just about Singaporean-Chinese food it’s about all food and it’s about really understanding what deliciousness is, having a joy for it and looking forward to sitting around a table with people and sharing food – that’s one of the greatest human experiences we can ever hope to have.”

4. She once had a two-year sabbatical in Tasmania where she stayed with a guy who owned a local abattoir:

“I spent time on the killing floor, learning how to meat pack, and milk sheep, and make cheese. It sounds like an Eat Pray Love moment because I guess it was,” she told Stellar. “It allowed me to be very hands-on with food and was the most generous and powerful education I could’ve ever been given.”

5. She does one unhealthy thing we can all relate with:

Her relatable morning routine, which she confessed to Design Files in 2019, mostly begins 

with a scroll on social media rather than what she wishes she started with: meditation. 

6. She is into fashion:

The other side of Leong’s endless interests is her obvious love for fashion. 

“I’m not mad that the television and MC part of my job means that I get to play dress-ups. 

Fashion is my sport, so any chance to get dressed up is welcome,” she told Design Files.

7. She first studied accounting and economics:

The TV host initially worked in digital advertising before eventually turning her love for food into her full-time job. 

During an interview with Design Files last year, Melissa remembers that working in advertising “left her unfulfilled and fantasising about pushing her boss out the window”.

8. Australian television host:

After a lifelong passion for food saw her make the switch from accounting, Melissa has now worked in practically every facet of the Australian media food space. 

As both the first female and first Asian MasterChef Australia judge in 11 years of the show, Leong knows how incredibly important it is to know what she is talking about. 

The Masterchef judge spent five years as a restaurant marketing, public relations and digital consultant which only enhanced her diverse knowledge of everything that’s mouth-watering.

9. Freelance food writer:

While she’s only just become a household name thanks to her inimitable presence on MasterChef – Leong is already a big deal in the foodie world. As a freelance food (and travel) writer and recipe editor, Melissa guided and helped respectable chefs, like Colin Fassnidge and Dan Hong, bring their cook books into fruition. Plus, she started Fooderati, a website that fuses her love for food and style (this woman has taste).

Being a food writer, this enticed her the most about food:

“I think it’s the story. What I’m really interested in is why people do what they do and how dishes come together. For example, Indian cuisine is thousands of years of family heritage, stories, migration patterns and love of different ingredients and spices. There is really a story to be told through that. And so for me having the privilege of hearing those stories, being able to articulate them and share with other people is something I really love about food. I’m also always looking for delicious food. Yes. I want things that are beautiful to look at and interesting to eat, but I think what brings meaning to food are stories and the context behind each creation”.

10. She is a critic but the internet criticized her words:

When Melissa Leong was announced as one of the new MasterChef judges, she was faced with some trolls on the internet because: she herself trolled MasterChef Australia’s credibility! 

She tweeted about the show being a questionable training ground for aspiring chefs but later on she told Stellar magazine:  

“The tweet had nothing to do with MasterChef at all. The comment was actually about entitlement. In hospitality, we pride ourselves on doing work. And the comment was, ‘If you want to be a chef, by all means, go on a show like MasterChef, and those doors will open for you. But take that opportunity and use it to go out there and do that hard work.”

She told the magazine she thought long and hard about accepting the judging position on MasterChef, given the hypocrisy, it would invite into her life and of those she loves. 

This is what she says about her tirade of abusive trolling online: 

“My strategy in regards to being in this very public space is to just focus on what I do well, be grateful for the positive aspects and to just own who I am,” she said.

On Instagram, Leong wrote alongside a ‘lovely’ piece of feedback, “these moments make the less savoury parts of this job (like being stalked daily from my home by creepy photographers and receiving projected anger and racism), worth it.”

She added at the bottom of the post, “Standing up for each other is way cooler than tearing each other down”.

Melissa Leong has also turned off comments on her Instagram page, a decision she revealed this week she came to because of her new life in the limelight.

“To answer a persisting question, there’s a very simple reason comments are not publicly accessible on my page: because it’s my choice,” she said. 

“The role of a lifetime comes with a huge adjustment, and I actively choose to take responsibility for how I navigate life, social media, the universe, everything.

“People have left everything from messages of kind confusion to full on projected intensity at the fact they cannot share their thoughts on my Instagram page.”

11. Cookbook editor and radio broadcaster: 

Her career on TV included working for Everyday Gourmet, The Cook’s Pantry and the Chef’s Line, but Leong is also a cookbook editor, food media consultant, travel writer and radio host. 

One look at her Instagram (under the name “Fooderati”) opens to a page filled with delectable food photos from her career, travels and own kitchen.

12. She struggles with mental illness :

Behind her smile and infectious energy, Leong has a history of mental health issues

“I started going to therapy in my early to mid-20s. I had a breakdown, I’ll be really honest. I don’t hide it but I don’t advertise that either,’’ she told the We Are The Real Ones podcast……“It has been part of my life and my story. It was an instance of too much on the plate and the plate ended up breaking under the weight of all those things.”

The Masterchef judge has done a lot of work to ensure she’s in touch with how she’s feeling, telling the podcast: “The only person who can pick you up and put you back together and help you navigate all of the struggles in life, is you.”

“There are some times when I just need to go into a quiet space and shut the door and have half an hour to myself.

“If I need a day like that where I just need that little bubble of time, it could be 10 minutes, I will tell them [the MasterChef crew] and they will find the next available opportunity for me to just have a minute. It doesn’t take long, it could just be five minutes, just to kind of be quiet and then you gather yourself and keep going,” she said. 

13. She also struggles with anxiety: 

Her anxiety, she says is often sparked when she walks into a room full of people she doesn’t know. “If I know you, then great, if I know I’m walking into a room full of people I do not know then I’m racked with anxiety,” she told the podcast.

14. She has an autoimmune condition:

In her younger years, Leong was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition that left her bedridden for months. She once explained that she had Pyrrole disorder which is a stress-induced disease that left her “extremely unwell” and unable to work.

“Through a correct diagnosis, supplements and good nutrition, I was able to slowly get better. But that time was a great exercise in patience for me because, as I’d lived my life at full throttle previously, I hadn’t been very good at patience. I had to slow down, I was forced to, but it was a good lesson to learn,” she told a certain magazine. Then last year she said that proud of her “scars”.

15. She married her husband Joe:

Melissa Leong is a married woman, and she tied the knot with her long time boyfriend turned husband, Joe Jones. Leong’s husband Joe also works in food. The classically French-trained chef owns Melbourne cocktail bar, Romeo Lane. 

Mel and Joe first got acquainted through a mutual friend, eloped to the Californian desert and got married in a ’60s rock n roll themed ceremony in February 2017. The couple enjoyed their wedding ceremony in front of a few friends and family in a private ceremony. 

Sharing the story of her engagement with Vogue magazine, Melissa said it happened after a casual conversation over dinner one evening.

“Over dinner, Joe asked me ‘So, how does eloping work exactly? Do you need to get engaged first?’ I told him I had about as much idea as he did (none), so instead, we decided to speculate on where we’d run away to, if we did decide to elope. The all-knowing dice decided that our already planned trip to the US in three-ish months would be it, so we just went with it,” she said.

16. The couple have 2 viral cats: 

Melissa Leong and her hubby Joe have two cats – Ghost, who MasterChef fans have seen on the show, and who also regularly pops up on Leong and Jones’ social media – and the much more camera-shy Ghoul.

“I find it absolutely hilarious that the internet has decided they love my cats,” she told Who magazine, adding that they “bring Joe and me so much joy.”

17. Her go-to dish in lockdown?

“ I am not very good at repeating dishes because I get bored very easily. I think the constant one was probably noodles though—different kinds of noodles. There happen to be noodles in every culture. And every form seems to be in our dishes at least a couple of times a week. I think there’s really something comforting about working long strands of chewing noodles and drinking broth t. So that’s probably the closest I can get to a go-to dish”.

18. Being judge on a cooking show this is how she keeps a check on her diet:

“I have to do my job well and happily”, 

“So, when I’m working, I’m not really worried so much about having eaten too much. I eat enough to inform my judgment. If there’s something super delicious – I might finish it, but otherwise, I usually eat enough to inform my judgment. When I’m not at work, I’m generally pretty balanced about what I eat and how much I exercise. Life is all about balance. I’m never saying no to a piece of cake. I’m never saying no to a delicious bowl of a great curry. I wouldn’t ever say no to good food! But it’s just a matter of all those other times, being a little bit more balanced about your health and making sure that you rest enough, you exercise enough, and you’re consuming the right nutrition. And that’s really, it. There’s no magic. There’s no magic solution to it other than to be balanced!”.

19. Which one does Melissa Leong consider spicier: Indian or Mexican food?

“I would say Indian. I know for a fact that there are certain dishes that I tasted from Indian cuisines that absolutely knock your socks off, and that’s really wonderful. I think Mexican and Indian cuisines are both so special in so many ways as they are two of the most ancient cuisines on the planet”.

20. She wants more diversity and representation: 

Proud of her Singaporean-Chinese cultural background, the food critic wanted to 

“encourage a more inclusive and balanced perspective” when it comes to writing about cuisine from different ethnicities.

During her conversation with Hospitality magazine, Leong said she is more determined than ever to ensure we see cultural representation on our TV screens.

“I grew up in an Australia that didn’t look like me – in many ways, Australia didn’t look like me. Growing up, I watched Lee Lin Chin and Elizabeth Chong on TV – and they continue to be heroes for me – because I remember seeing them as a kid and thinking, ‘I look like that maybe I could be on TV if that’s what I want to do for work,’” she told whimn.com.au.

“No matter where we come from in the world, being culturally represented gives us a sense of being understood and being respected for our perspectives and our cultural backgrounds and our stories and that’s important for everybody.

“Diversity, and advocating for diversity, is not at the detriment of other people’s cultures, it’s about inclusivity and it’s about sharing the joy and the experience and the learnings that we have gained from all across the globe.”

21. Melissa Leong was gifted a diamond ring gifted by a friend:

How lucky to have a friend like this! 

Recently, Melissa flaunted her diamond ring, which was gifted by one of her generous friends:

‘My friend surprised me with this starburst signet ring she made complete with a vintage repurposed diamond, as a way to mark this big step in my career,’ she wrote.

Though the gift is generous, the food enthusiasm confessed, saying: ‘I feel somewhat uneasy about celebrating, given the context of our collective uncertain future as a nation and a planet.‘   Also, she said: ‘I’m also evermore grateful for the diamond-tough, true friends in my life, with whom I feel fortunate to weather this and every storm’.

22. Melissa Leong has a whopping net worth of $1 Million:

Matter of fact, as of 2020, Leong’s salary is estimated at about $68,000. Well, she has amassed such colossal fortune from her long professional career as a master chef, book writer, and many more. Additionally, she drives a luxurious car. The MasterChef Australia judge additionally earns from the social media account. The social media personality who has more than a million fan followers can earn up to $700 per post. She is currently affiliated with such brands as Adriano Zumbo, Gelato Messina, and many others. 

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